4D (II) Project 3: Site-specific Storytelling – (Dis)Connect

Set in the humble dinner table of a simple home, (Dis)Connect is a story of a modern family, who in their attempt to be connected to everyone else, instead forgets the most basic, important unit of connection: themselves as a family.

Combining sound design and projection mapping, our installation invites the audience into the personal and combined lives of a family immersed in new day technology.

Does technology connect or disconnect?


I’m really proud of my team for having produced this installation despite the challenges we faced and the short timing we had to fully execute our plans. I learnt a lot from this project, not only from what we had to do but also from my teammates. Without them, it wouldn’t have worked out! Many thanks to them!

For more about the process behind this installation, check out my process post!

4D (II) Project 2: Sound and Image – Process

< For the final video, check this post!>

Ever since I found out about the existence of foley artists a couple of years back, I have always marvelled at the seemingly effortless sound experience films produce.

This project was my first actual attempt at recording my own foley for a video, and I have to admit that it really was not as easy as I imagined it would be.

When thinking of soundtracks, I immediately thought of the soundtrack used for the end credits of Grey’s Anatomy. 

I think that it really is magical how the song fits the story, how the beeps are reminiscent of the beeping of machines in hospitals. Animations by Guldies were also the ones that opened my mind to how sound design is extremely important in any kind of film or video production: 

Euphoria (I can’t seem to post the direct video here)

The sound design really gives the videos life, and this brought light to me about how foley is extremely important to create not only believable scenes, but also bring about mood and character.

In class, Ruyi taught us about diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, and how to use these to create an atmosphere.

Diegetic Non-diegetic
a.k.a. actual sound a.k.a. commentary sound
Characters’ voices Narrator’s voice (Voiceover)
Sounds of objects in frame Ambient sounds for dramatic effect
Music if it comes from objects in frame Music to create mood
Both combined to create a dramatised but real experience to viewers

Here were some other websites where I learnt more about sound design and foley:

  • Storytelling with Sound on Vimeo
  • Storytelling with Sound Design on Musicbed
  • Sound as a way of telling stories on Gareth Stack

◊ IDEATION, RESEARCH ◊

For this project, I teamed up with Hwee Ann and Debbie. First thing we did was to list down ideas, which we did over Google docs. We researched about the different types of parallel storylines, and also possible story ideas, storylines and a script.

Some story ideas

We decided to work on Debbie’s idea surrounding an eating disorder and how it is hidden behind a façade of healthy lifestyle.

More brainstorming and initial script by Debbie

ANOREXIA

As for myself, since I have little exposure to eating disorders, I went to research more online, from its types, symptoms, to causes and treatment.

This website was quite helpful in giving a summarised explanation on anorexia.

So, out of the types, we chose to show how the character was not only cutting on calorie intake, but she was also doing everything she can to reduce and/or get rid of the calories already in her body.

CHARACTERS

A summary of Sarah, the girl with anorexia:
Obsessed with beauty ideals constantly fed to her through media such as magazines, television, and most significantly social media, Sarah starts starving herself, purging, and over-exercising in an effort to be like her idols. Her depression and eating habits are masked through the use of social media, which easily allows her to craft the persona of someone living a healthy lifestyle. This starts taking over her life, as priorities shift from academics to achieving an unrealistic figure.

A summary of Hui Xin, the roommate:
Hui Xin, in contrast to Sarah, is a happy-go-lucky girl who happens to be a foodie. She does not care about meeting beauty standards and instead focuses on truly living a healthy lifestyle with equal parts exercise and equal parts indulgence. She busies herself with school work and likes watching extreme eating videos in her free time. She maintains a close relationship with her roommate but fails to notice any at risk behaviour, not only because they spend little time together due to their own schedules, but also because she believes Sarah’s online persona.

FINAL STORYBOARD

We decided that we want to have 3 points of intersection in the timelines of our two characters.

We came up with a storyboard and list of scenes for filming. Meanwhile, we would also take note of what each scene shows/means, i.e. the subtext behind the action or shot.

Summary of our general storyline showing the parallels of the two characters

◊ FILMING ◊

Filming was fun. We did it over two days and also used a Zoom recorder to record as we film. 

SETTING UP THE SPACE

 

Sarah’s desk is filled with cutouts of girls, “perfection”, a reminder of her idols and ideals. It is also covered in beauty products such as various lotions and a hairdryer. They take up 70% of the space, with the rest being several books and a handful of photographs.

Hui Xin’s desk (forgot to take a proper picture) is filled with more personal things, but most of all food. There are also articles on food pinned up.

SHOOTING

The way we approached shooting was to capture as many angles as possible, so that we would have shots at our disposal for editing. We also took note of lighting as to describe the time of each scene.

It was quite difficult to get the room night scenes right because the footage will get really grainy, too dark, or out of focus. 

Turning off all the lights would be too dark, so we turned on one of the desk lights. However, the reflection on the bathroom door became too obvious, so in the end we covered it up with a towel.

Shooting went well. Only afterwards when reviewing the shots did we realise that many of our shots were too grainy, desaturated or out of focus. Also, since we used 2 cameras, some of the colours turned out very different. This is one learning point for future filming, to make sure that the settings on the cameras are optimal.

◊ EDITING ◊

I had my own vision of the overall film. I wanted to emphasise on the over-exercising part of Sarah’s eating disorder. I wanted to show her really pushing herself beyond her limits, but in a negative way. I also wanted to hint at how this is affecting her psychologically.

For the sound, I completely disregarded the use of any form of music, since we were encouraged to use other means of sound design other than music to create mood.

Inspired by the music video for “If I Get High” by Nothing But Thieves, I really wanted to include a dream sequence.

I thought that I could make use of it to establish Sarah’s state of mind and condition. In my version, I made use of the alarm tone to integrate the dream sequence into the real life. I included split second shots of “beauty ideals”, Sarah sitting in front of her desk filled with these “beauty ideals”, and shots of crunching chips. At first I included the sounds for all of these, but eventually decided to make it silent except for the alarm tone and a humming sound that increases in intensity.

In the end, I had to exclude some shots because my video was way exceeding the limits of the duration. During editing, I also realised that I was missing some shots I needed. Since it would be too troublesome to shoot again, I had to improvise and make do with the shots we already had. 

In line with my idea of showing Sarah’s over-exercising, I sequenced the shots in such a way that it seems as if Sarah is exerting herself, especially in running. This is done through repeating shots and using various angles to show how Sarah runs again and again.

At the end, I alternated shots of Sarah’s evening run with Hui Xin’s being in the library, studying, and then walking back while snacking. This is to contrast their lifestyles and also to give the impression that Sarah runs for a really long period of time.

I cut from the call scene to a shot of Sarah biting into the apple straightaway to highlight her lying. In this scene too, I decided to not show Sarah purging at all, but instead use a focus shot on the thrown away, bitten apple, and shots of Hui Xin and her eating videos. These are some of the shots I decided to intersect with solely the puking sounds:

Each shot was aimed to juxtapose the puking sounds.

More on sounds, it was quite fun to record my own foley. From footsteps to biting, door opening, turning off the lights, panting, and many more, I used the Zoom mic in order to record the sounds as accurately as possible. I also recorded white noise by turning up the recording level on the mic and recording silence.

Since we already had a live recording of the sounds that correspond to the shots taken by the camera, I used them as reference to decide whether the sounds I built were accurate or not. I layered the recorded sounds and controlled the volume for the white noise and recordings of the surroundings in order to weave a believable scene.

At most seven audio layers were used in editing.

For the recording, I actually recorded everything in accordance with what they actually are. Then I adjusted the volumes so that they would be very subtle and not too out of place, and I added layers of white noise and ambience sounds to make it as close to the real recording sounds as possible.

When watching the final product again, I realised how the white noise was instead drowning out all the subtle foley sounds I recorded. There were also parts in which I felt I could adjust the volume better. Somehow, it did not come to my mind at all to include sounds of phone-tapping or phone ringing when Sarah received a call. I find it quite hilarious how I missed out such a simple thing.

After watching my friends’ videos, it came upon me how I was too focused on making it realistic that I forgot to utilise sound to develop the mood more. I could have used internal hushed voices to intensify the mirror scene, or some piano tones to accentuate some scenes. I realised that by ruling music out completely, I missed out on chances to use just certain pitches and tones to describe the mood or create pacing.

 

◊ REFLECTION ◊

I think that going through this project opened my eyes on so many levels. 

MESSAGE/SUBTEXT

First of all, I feel that I’ve tried to fit in too much for a 5 min video. There were too many things going on that it becomes rather unclear what my main message is supposed to be. Also, I feel that a lot of the actions could have been more subtle.

Duane mentioned that perhaps we could have focused on the characters’ relationships with other people rather than the actions they go through by themselves, or too explicitly showcasing the “food” side of anorexia. This I find a really interesting comment as it is true that eating disorders go beyond the motions people go through, as they also affect the sufferers’ relationships with their surroundings.

HUI XIN

The three of us also agreed that we have not developed Hui Xin as a character sufficiently. After the submission, we talked about how we could have given Hui Xin more personality. Instead of simply liking food and superficially showing her eating and watching videos of eating, we could have made her a food blogger instead.

She could have been a passionate food writer who writes her own food blog or publishes articles on food in magazines. Then, instead of shots of her going through mundane everyday motion, we could have had shots of Hui Xin on one of her trips to a cafe or restaurant documenting the food, and writing about it afterwards. This we feel would give the character more depth and more chances of interacting with Sarah in a meaningful way.

SOUND

Most of all, I learnt that sound design really isn’t as simple as replicating sounds in real life. I think that for my video, I focused too much on replicating sounds of the real world that I’ve forgotten to create any distinguishing mood or feel, although this is exactly what I always reminded myself to do. I’ve sort of strayed from my original intentions. I feel that while I did a lot of research and learnt a lot from them, I did not succeed in applying what I learnt effectively.

I learnt quite a bit of new things when watching my friends’ videos. I also realised many things that I failed to notice when editing my video: 

  • Usage of internal voices to describe mental state and thoughts
  • Symbolic sounds (waves, clock-ticking, heartbeat)
  • Sound dynamics
  • Subtle music to describe surroundings

OVERALL

Although I feel that I really could have done much better for this assignment, I am glad to have gone through this project because I will definitely try to learn from my mistakes and from what I realise that I can do better. I also had a great time working with Debbie and Hwee Ann whom I learnt a lot from. It has been an eye-opening experience and I hope to improve from here then on!

4D(II) Project 2: Sound and Image – Obsessed

Another challenging project that helped me learn so many things. This time, it was all about sound design. After my group mates and I developed a storyline and shot it, we each edited the footages according to our own artistic vision.

Our story in particular revolves around the relationship between roommates, one anorexic and one oblivious. Here is my take: Obsessed.

For detailed explanation of our process, from ideation to filming, editing, and my personal reflection, check out my process post!

Also, check out Hwee Ann’s and Debbie’s versions!